Write Articles, or Write “Blog Posts?”

July 13, 2007

Topics: Blogging.

Jakob Nielsen, a well-known international expert on usability, writes articles. You can be pretty confident that he believes he writes articles on the basis of a recent article, “Write Articles, Not Blog Postings.” And he’s right. He doesn’t write blog posts.

However, his stance is that an article is differentiated from a blog post on the basis that blog postings are always “commodity content,” and that “there’s a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody else’s work.”

Blog postings will always be commodity content: there’s a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody else’s work. Such postings are good for generating controversy and short-term traffic, and they’re definitely easy to write. But they don’t build sustainable value. Think of how disappointing it feels when you’re searching for something and get directed to short postings in the middle of a debate that occurred years before, and is thus irrelevant.

He makes the specific point that he’s addressing the content style of the writing, not the method of publishing. He does specifically consider a blog post to be superficial, derivative, and driven by outside events or other sites. And, furthermore, he considers this to be a bad thing.

I’ll absolutely state that this blog post I’m writing is derivative and that it is driven by outside events. Obviously, I’m commenting on Jakob Nielsen’s article. I would like to believe that this is not a superficial post, however. I frankly consider that anything at all posted online or in print which is superficial is simply bad writing.

Commentary on current events in an industry, although certainly derivative, is valuable and important. Superficiality is not. The impression left by Dr. Nielsen’s article is that the article/blog post distinction is essentially the difference between garbage and thoughtful content. I disagree.

There are certainly blogs online which contain nothing more than superficial garbage or worse. But why should we take as our example, as our defining instance of blogging, a baseline which is obviously not valuable? Why shouldn’t blogging be considered to be thoughtful articles written from a derivative perspective, providing commentary or opinions on outside events?

Dr. Nielsen continues to discuss how written content on line should demonstrate leadership. It should be in-depth content which adds value. Again, this is absolutely true. For the most part, what Dr. Nielsen is saying that valuable content online needs to be high quality, thoroughly researched, well-written, and should demonstrate expertise.

He also happens to be saying that any content which does not meet those specifications is superficial garbage and your time is better spent elsewhere. Opinion has value. Regardless of whether your opinion is the most authoritative, the most educated, or the most popular, it provides a window into the way you think and helps you make a connection with your prospective customers. Yes, many industries may not benefit from this. (At least, not at this point in time — things may change.) The value of blogging, however, is not exclusive to “websites that sell cheap products.”

See also the discussion at Cre8asite Forums – Slow Down and Write Great Articles.

11 Comments on “Write Articles, or Write “Blog Posts?””

  1. i dont know article and blog posting is difference. but for me it doesn’t really matter. as long the content is good you can make a lot traffic by that

  2. Forextradingsystemfree.info; August 30, 2008 at 5:08 am

    Nice post and a good place to comment on. I know that research shows that most ppl just scan through posts, so KISS is sometimes the only way to go, but there are some authors that have such a great writing style that no matter how long their articles are – people read every word..

  3. I would deem an article as something more bookmarkable more knowledgable. I see blog postings as informal and insignificat to the search engine user.

    I think that’s a common perception: and I think that’s a completely artificial division. It’s a vicious cycle of thinking and action: because many people believe that “blog posts” are informal and insignificant, they use blogs to post information which is poorly prepared, poorly researched, or casual. Because many people read blog posts which contains these posts, the same impression is maintained.

    I think that all blog posts are articles: some of them are good articles, others are bad articles, and many of them are just quick comments on articles. An “article” doesn’t require one interpretation or another — not all articles are equal.

    It’s a conceptual division which is simply irrelevant and meaningless.

    However, what Jakob Nielsen describes as articles are definitely something that needs to be included for any successful blog. There’s no reason not to also include brief postings which are less informative or bookmarkable, but you absolutely MUST author good articles as well.

  4. I can see where the guy is coming from. As one of these perfectionist designers, this is exactly how my stance would be. If doing things in this way gives you satisfaction and motivates you whilst I honestly believe most likely will help your online search rankings it can only be good practice. I would deem an article as something more bookmarkable more knowledgable. I see blog postings as informal and insignificat to the search engine user.

  5. Articles or blog posts… it doesn’t really matter. The main thing that they must contain useful information and some interesting ideas.

  6. That’s pretty much the answer I give clients who want to know “how to blog.” It all comes down to writing what you want to write; anything else is artificial.

    That’s the essential problem I have with authors who try and write some kind of proclamation stating that a blog post is any particular type of writing — or that writing articles is somehow different from writing a blog post. It can be — but it doesn’t have to be.

    Thanks, Jack.

  7. I’ve been thinking on this one for a while, and I think I’ve come up with the definitive answer.

    “It depends”.

    It depends on who you are, what your site is for, how you are perceived, how you want to be perceived, who your audience is, and what it is you’re talking about (amongst other things).

    Who you are: if you’re a big company, articles look more authoritative and informative; if you’re a small company or an individual, short posts are more ‘chatty’ and welcoming.

    If your subject matter is brief, then be brief. But don’t be afraid to give a longer opinion if you feel it’s warranted.

    In other words: write for yourself; attempting to write for an audience is usually a mistake…

  8. But who takes Jakob seriously these days??

    A lot of people. And, frankly, for good reason. For all that I may not always agree with Dr. Nielsen, he’s always got a strong position and provides great information. He does look at web sites from somewhat of an information-purist perspective — completely ignoring design or marketing — and those of us who need to consider these other issues are well-advised to take what he says into consideration; although not by following it slavishly.

  9. But who takes Jakob seriously these days??

    Alot of his points that while may be right are wrong from an old fuddy duddy point of view.

  10. But more importantly to me, I learn things from your blog and from the dozens of other blogs that I read. I have to filter out what is important to me and what is not. I don’t think it is that difficult to do.

    Thanks, David. And your point is excellent: we are perfectly capable of filtering. The article/blog post dichotomy is meaningless — one is not greater than the other. The true distinction which should be made (and which Dr. Nielsen is actually making; though masked by the wrong terms) is between high-quality writing and poor writing.

  11. Certainly the internet is full of useless blog information and poorly written blog content. The internet is also full of poorly written articles and useless article information. I think the distinction between articles and posts is a distinction without meaningful difference.

    The poor writing can be quantified, of course, but the usefullness or uselessness of the internet information is a much more subjective issue, isn’t it?

    I agree that opinion has considerable value, Joe. It’s up to each of us to determine what value the opinion is and how useful it is to us. I think we always need to remember learning itself has value, and tremendous value at that, even if it never results in selling more pistachios or more website design projects.

    I am certain that Dr. Nielsen would consider the blogs that I write to be full of insignificant and useless information. And perhaps that is the case for most people. But there is no doubt that the blogs have caused my SEO rankings to improve and my business to increase based on cold contacts from new clients.

    The net result is there is more money in my business bank account than there was last year. And the year before that. I think Dr. Nielsen agrees that this is one of the goals of a blog post – to increase readership and generate business. So I measure mine a success.

    But more importantly to me, I learn things from your blog and from the dozens of other blogs that I read. I have to filter out what is important to me and what is not. I don’t think it is that difficult to do.